Last week I took a drive down to Wheatland to do some shopping at a couple thrift stores that I had my eye on.
While there, I also explored some of the downtown area in the newly fallen snow, looking to photograph street scenes that captured the essence of the quietness and stillness of this Western town that was blanketed in snow in early September.
As I walked I came across a business that was, surprisingly, still operating: a small movie theater called Cinema West.
From Sept. 4-10, they were showing Mrs. Doubtfire. Prior to that, in August, the movie was the Disney film Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.
As many larger theaters throughout the country and the rest of the world remain closed due to the pandemic, throwing the future of the theater industry into question, the fact that I had discovered a theater still open and running was surreal.
In August, the theater posted on its Facebook page that it was “following all safety guidelines” and was asking customers to practice social distancing.
In Douglas, meanwhile, the Princess Theater remains closed.
Wheatland’s population is roughly half that of Douglas, itself a small town, which some people might argue makes Wheatland less susceptible to community spread of the coronavirus. But it only takes one infected person, symptomatic or not, to start a cluster of other infections.
Still, the fact that this theater is still open shows how different places may apply their own calculus when weighing the risks of infection against the financial benefits of keeping a business running.
I certainly miss going to the movies. The last film I was planning to see in the theaters was David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me in San Francisco on March 14, before theaters in that city began shutting down and were instead blocking off certain seats to facilitate social distancing. I decided at the last minute not to go out of concern for my safety and the safety of others.
And yet, the last time I actually went to a theater was exactly one week prior to that on March 7, when I saw a series of short films by Agnes Varda at the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco.
Funny how much the events of a week can shift your decision making process.
At that screening, organizers thanked customers for coming out in spite of news around a virus against which, at that point, public officials were still saying the best line of defense was to wash your hands.
Now, I would consider going to see a movie at that theater in Wheatland, given the small size of the town and its location in Wyoming, although whether I decide to stay would depend on how many other people are in attendance, how close they were sitting to me, and how many were wearing masks.
But, even though Douglas is a larger town and it makes me a little more uneasy, I would also be excited to see the Princess Theater reopen, when the time is right.